In a move signaling that agriculture will be a focus of the antitrust enforcement agencies under President Obama, on August 5, 2009, the Antitrust Division of the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced plans to hold workshops in early 2010 addressing antitrust issues in the agricultural markets. Although it has been widely reported that the agriculture industry would receive increased scrutiny as part of the stepped-up enforcement agenda of Assistant Attorney General Christine Varney, head of the Antitrust Division, the announcement of the workshops provides a more detailed picture of the Division’s enforcement priorities.
As described in preliminary terms, the workshops will address several areas of interest to the food industry, including the effect of agriculture on food costs, the effect of regulatory statutes on competition in agriculture, increasing retailer concentration, price spreads, and market transparency. The workshops, which are to be held regionally, are intended to provide a forum for dialogue, and written public comments are invited by the end of 2009. In addition to providing education and background information about the intersection of antitrust and agriculture, the DOJ and USDA intend the workshops to be a platform for “farmers, ranchers, consumer groups, processors, the agribusinesses, and other interested parties to provide examples of anticompetitive conduct.”
In a speech given on August 7, 2009 at the annual meeting of the farmer advocacy group Organization for Competitive Markets, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Philip J. Weiser reiterated the goals of the joint workshops and elaborated on some of the probable areas of focus:
Whether these workshops will result in new legislation or regulations in 2010 is questionable. Several of the focus areas listed above such as the Packers and Stockyards Act have been debated in past years to no conclusion. Other food and agriculture issues, like the food versus fuel debate, food safety, or cap and trade in agriculture, likely will remain the main focus of debate going into next year.
Public comments regarding these issues may be submitted by December 31, 2009, with two paper copies to be delivered to Legal Policy Section, United States Department of Justice, Antitrust Division, 450 5th Street NW, Suite 11700, Washington, D.C. 20001, and an electronic copy to firstname.lastname@example.org. All comments will be posted for public review.
The Food Industry Team and the Antitrust Practice at Foley & Lardner LLP will continue to track developments regarding the workshops, including the public statements of the Antitrust Division and the content of public comments.
Legal News Alert is part of our ongoing commitment to providing up-to-the-minute information about pressing concerns or industry issues affecting our food industry clients and colleagues. If you have any questions about this alert or would like to discuss this topic further, please contact your Foley attorney or any of the following individuals:
Gregory E. Neppl
Cynthia M. Villareal